Eleanor Anne Johnson Andersen, who during a 72-year marriage was the quiet, accomplished helpmate and intellectual companion of former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, died Wednesday in Minneapolis. She was 99 and had lived in Arden Hills.
Andersen was born in Minneapolis, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, and grew up speaking Swedish in a close-knit family, her children, Emily of St. Paul and Julian of Lake Forest Park, Wash., said Saturday. She visited relatives in Sweden several times, once crossing the Atlantic on the ill-fated Lusitania.
She met her future husband when they were new students at the University of Minnesota; they were married in September 1932. Several years later, Eleanor earned her bachelor's degree.
Andersen, whom her daughter described as an "unfailingly courteous person," was a strong, gentle supporter of her husband through his times as a farmer, businessman and newspaper publisher, and during his term in the governor's office from Jan. 2, 1961, to March 25, 1963, her children said. A moderate Republican, Elmer L. Andersen was known for pushing civil rights legislation, advocating for children with special needs and helping create Voyageurs National Park.
"She was a thoughtful, informed person with her own activities, and yet at the same time a very loving, devoted partner to my father," Emily said. "She acted as sounding board, editor, critic, fellow strategizer. ... Of course, those being the times they were, she was not recognized in the way my father was in his ventures in business, politics and other areas. At one point, Dad said he was not going to accept any more awards for anything unless they included her. He always gave her credit."
Said her son: "I will miss my mother's wit. It was very quiet, dry, never mean, based on sharp observation. ... Her eyes would sparkle when her wit was flying."
Like her husband, after whom a U library is named, Eleanor Andersen was a benefactor of the university and an avid book collector.
She was preceded in death by her husband, who died on Nov. 16, 2004, at age 95, and a son, Anthony, who died in September 2005. In addition to Julian and Emily, she is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, 2323 Como Av., St. Paul.